When the new office 32 GB WiFi iPad showed up in early May, thanks to our mates at BundleBox, there were glorious cries of geek-stacy from the resident gadget boffins and techno-novices alike. Hey it’s the UK it’s not supposed to be here! Take that Big Brapple! After it made the office rounds like a little trampy tramp I though the best way to find out if an average dude like me would actually buy one these things was to take it home for the weekend and give it a good old fashioned test romp. 48 hours and several bottles of cheap Portuguese wine later the weekend romance results are in.
The iPad is a fine looking piece of kit I suspect it will integrate effortlessly into anyone’s shiny black and aluminum lifestyle. Robots rejoice! It was definitely the classiest thing in my Ikea spawned living room. In fact the iPad looked good everywhere – casually left on the arm of a chair, nesting on a sideboard, relaxed by the fireplace… waiting anxiously by the toilet. That’s right I said toilet want to fight about it? Note: I did not whip it out on the train. At the time I felt it was too soon. I didn’t feel as cocksure as the smug gentleman commuter two seats down, slap typing away at his greymarket iPad to the delight of the American tourist couple beside him. Such a tableau I so not want to invite.
Alright so it looks good but what’s under the hood? What can this big bottomed iPhone do?
Web – Most web pages displayed beautifully. News sites especially were somewhat more thrilling to flick through than usual and the overall speedy responsiveness of the OS made scrolling and pinching all the more satisfying.
The immediate appeal of news and information sites in handheld portrait mode does give weight to Murdoch and his crazy plans to monetize the digitized. I’ll admit reading news this way, although aloof, is quite enjoyable. Maybe he’s not so crazy.
Video – TV Catchup.com is a sweet site for accessing live QuickTime feeds of all UK Freeview channels. Video looks great full screen and I indulged in some F1 action for 40 minutes without problems. Changing channels or even browsing a TV guide through TV Catchup is however somewhat painful (tabs on the iPad Safari browser please). The only downside to portable live tv in this case was the channel flicking expectations are lacking and I was at the mercy of my domestic WiFi. So I wouldn’t chuck out the 42-inch plasma just yet. Big box tellys sit obediently in the corner and don’t require constant prop-up coddling. There’s still a spot for lean-back viewing with the surround sound cranked off it’s tits
Games – So after browsing the web, watching TV and looking at my house on StreetView it was time to run some paid for apps; and by apps I mean games. Even though they were all iPhone apps they still ran well and didn’t look too shabby at double their native sizes. Top honours go to Angry Birds and Zombie Smash. Being a portable device I decided to combine Smashing Zombies while sitting in the great outdoors. Although sound in theory not always practical in practice. Screen glare makes the iPad somewhat unusable (apart from an audio player) in any bright sunlit environment. Thankfully being in Britain and not in any bright sunlit environment, any intermittent periods of life-giving sun resolved themselves with good old trustworthy cloud cover. Keep that in mind if you want to wander down to the park to read an e-book or knock up a Keynote presentation under a tree.
In the Apple tradition the iPad comes equipped with the standard bare bones action-pack of sparsity. You can browse online, look at a map, email your mum, sync up your music (why?), photos and video via iTunes. Yawn. Luckily Jimmy K had loaded it up with a couple dozen iPhone apps so the bones will have a bit of meat on them until I blow the dust off the company credit card and attack the App Store. Weirdly, because it’s bigger than my iPhone (and freaking expensive) I might have been expecting more iPad specific bits and bobs but no, it really is a big iPhone that can’t make phone calls. I guess the 10 inches of screen will have to thrill me for now.
Even though it’s quite slim the iPad’s 1.5 pounds can feel a bit hefty after a while. To appreciate full fingers-on potential it became apparent to try out several “hold styles”. Desktop use and standing – not so good unless you’ve got a rubber neck and an iron-like kung fu grip. Stick it on a stand and add a keyboard you say? Buy a laptop I reply.
The optimum position for me was resting the iPad on a leg/nether region combo while sitting jauntily in a comfy chair. Why all the fuss? Getting comfortable should not be underestimated. Ergonomically the iPad is a little awkward. My thumbs are now destined to hold it in place and not to type or touch. It’s definitely a 2 handed affair so moving around the house juggling the iPad with a cup of coffee required a bit of Cirque du Soleil dexterity. Maybe I shouldn’t have worried about dropping it. Although I can’t see it surviving a 4-foot drop onto a pile of bunnies the iPad is apparently tough enough to shred. Will it shred?
And I shall call you smudgy. My iPhone 3Gs has a coat of oleophobic oil resistant polymer which is meant to reduce finger print smudging. Now either I’m secreting WD-40 or Apple gave the old “Don’t need no TrueCoat” stamp of quality to the iPad because after 5 minutes of touchy/swipey the screen was more oily that the Gulf of Mexico. So get used to constant wipe downs or knit yourself a pair of touchscreen friendly gloves until zero tolerance anti-smudge screens greet our fingers.
WHO IS THIS FOR?
People are going to use the iPad for different things that jive with their schedules and lifestyles. Realistically it’s meant to act as a personal tool that merges the assumed chasm between smartphone and laptop – I can take it with me and it has a spot on the coffee table when I’m at home. That’s not to say you won’t see it out and about unassociated with an individual. Retailers can use iPads as in-store interactive catalogues taking full advantage of audio, video RFID tags and GPS; or how about as a menu and food-ordering device in a restaurant?
Also, the iPad need not be the exclusive champion of tablet computing. What Apple has done though is kick-started the conversation and opened the floor for everyone else to do something better and cheaper.
The Freescale range of tablets would be right at home in any primary or language school – Android OS, camera, keyboard dock, memory card slot, USB port, Wi-Fi , Bluetooth 2.1 and GPS are standard, with optional 3G cellular modem and RF4CE.
I can also see tablets used as information guides in museums, as mini portable kiosks in government and public institutions, in hospitals (tablet + NHS = Electronic Medical Record), by delivery companies, the Post Office, the police, a shopping trolley, the list goes on.
Very soon the ubiquity of how we access applications via clouds will add another layer of freedom to mobile computing. If I have an iPad type-o-thing by 2012 I would expect it to access and run all my software wherever I am. I also expect it to integrate into my home as a one-off device that controls parts of my house. A sort of command centre that monitors home heating and utilities, talks to my appliances and car, communes with my television by acting as an interactive TV guide and remote – basically the iPad listens to my house and lets me supervise and administrate through it’s touchscreen.
WILL WE MEET AGAIN?
All future fantasies aside, the iPad and tablet computing in general has a lot of potential beyond the initial “Wowsers it has a biggish screen!” It will be interesting to monitor the uptake of the device and how content makers try to influence consumer routine and conversely how consumer needs influence content creation. As far as my weekend date is concerned I think I’ll hold off on a fully committed relationship until I try out a wider range of apps that offer fulfillment beyond what my phone can do.
First Date: 3 pucks of chewing tobacco out of 5.
Rob is a believer in the evolution of mobile computing and our growing dependency on it. As of press time the iPad is a luxury device and not a necessity.